Merit board: Fire chief can accept resignations without board approval

The board made their decision after talking with the city and union attorneys and chief Lahey.

Posted: Jun 5, 2018 9:07 PM
Updated: Jun 5, 2018 10:43 PM

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WFFT) - The Fort Wayne Fire Department merit board decided chief Eric Lahey has the right to accept a resignation after an executive session that lasted more than an hour.

The board made their decision after talking with the city and union attorneys and chief Lahey.

"We believe the state code is very clear on what it states. That's the authority lies with the jurisdiction that has the ability to hire, fire, promote and demote, which is our merit commission," said IAFF Local 124 president Jeremy Bush.

Bush said he feels the board should have waited for a third party.

"We will continue to move forward. We're working on getting an opinion from the Indiana Attorney General," Bush said.

The issue stems from a complaint Elbert Starks filed about racist comments made toward him from other firefighters.

Starks, who resigned as an assistant chief in 2015, felt Lahey wasn't handling the investigation properly and resigned from his role as captain from the stress and Lahey accepted.

However Starks asked to be re-instated less than 24 hours later, and Lahey denied that request.

"I think in any situation there are extenuating circumstances that make that case what it is," Bush said. "In this one, there are some specific extenuating circumstances that I believe should have allowed a little bit of leniency in how this was handled."

This case is just one example of the tension between the fire department administration and the union.

The merit board asked the two parties to work together, but they agree nothing's changed.

This was evident when the agenda was modified to discuss putting a firefighter on unpaid leave.

During the meeting Bush said he didn't realize that was being discussed.

"We always try to be forthcoming with information and a lot of times we don't feel like we get that reciprocated. Unfortunately, we feel like right now, he have a communication issue between the union and the administration," Bush said.

Chief Lahey wouldn't comment for this story.

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